Monday, August 10, 2009

Queer discussions with a Bishop

A Bishop of the Anglican Church in South Africa, who will remain nameless, recently invited me in for some discussion on the 'Queer' issue. Now, let me start by saying, he is a good guy. He has a long history of involvement in the struggle for justice and equality in South Africa. He is sensible. He reads (which is a huge pleasure to behold!) and he is extremely thoughtful. But more than that, he values the opinions of others, which is not necessarily a common episcopal trait.

I understand (though I did not ask) that he is straight. But despite this handicap, he undoubtedly has a passion for issues of justice and queer justice being one of them. How rare is that, I ask you? And I wonder how much easier it would be for Christian Queers, if there were more people in positions of authority in the Church who did start with a passion for justice, in all its myriad needs and forms, and only then proceed to a discussion about homosexuality and whether or not Anglicans should allow; ordain; consecrate or marry homosexuals. I have a suspicion, things would be a lot easier, if a pre-requisite to the debate was a committment, not just in word, but in deed, to those issues of social justice.

Anyway, I had taken him one or two books to read. The one which he enjoyed the most was Leo Steinberg's The Sexuality of Christ in Rennaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion (University of Chicago Press, 1983 (revised 1996). It is an extraordinary book, unbelievably well researched and hugely informative.

The other, was a book I have already reviewed on this site - The Queer God, by Marcella Althaus-Reid - which had the desired effect of blowing him away - just because that is what it does! I sent him my review as well, and it was this which he homed in on, in our discussion. In it, I made the following points:

  • We Queers are only allowed to speak, if it is in the language and grammar of the hegemonic power. We are not allowed to explore our own language, our own culture, our own norms, our own reality. That is the dungeon to which we are confined, within the church and the dominant theology.
  • In the end, in the fullness of time, we Queers will make ourselves heard. And not in a way which accepts that the dominant heterosexual project is the right one and that we somehow fit in with that. Queer Theologians are saying, "you have got it thumpingly wrong!" If we are excluded, if we are kept at the gate, if our voices are silent and if our culture and practice is condemned and excluded, you are wrong! Do not think for a moment that we will give up the struggle, or that we will be marginalized or silenced. Because the God is not a heterosexual God. In fact, that God is a blasphemy, an abhorrence and a sham.

The Bishop drew my attention to what I had said in a review of the book (i.e. the above) and said it sounded "angry". I was surprised about this, because I do not feel particularly angry. Mostly, I feel resigned, because I know that eventually, the Church will be dragged kicking and screaming into a more reasonably position than it has at the moment - eventually.

And then, secondly, the issue which perplexed him was, of course, the issue of my questioning the rightness of the hetero-normative church on its views relating to single, committed partnerships - as a model of marriage.

I said that I did not necessarily have a problem with it. What I have a problem with is the absolute refusal to even consider anything else! That is no way to have a debate. That is certainly no way to "listen" to those on the other side! You cannot, in any negotiation, start with the bottom line!

His point, about the debate was interesting. He said, granted, that was probably the bottom line for them. But what was the actual objective. If one starts with that point, we will probably never get any further. And the objective is, he would have thought, to kind of "get a toe in the door", as it were.

Although, at the time, I think I agreed with his position, on reflection it sounds very much like those who, during apartheid, argued that blacks and others in the liberation struggle, should pitch themselves a little lower than the full take-over of power from the white minority. A range of mechanisms were suggested: tri-cameral parliaments; bantustans; separate development etc etc. None of them worked, because the black majority, and those of us who fought alongside them, refused to accept "crumbs from the master's table".

I would suggest that it is much the same with the women's struggle and I would suggest it is much the same for us Queers. It is actually inauthentic to suggest anything else.

1 comment:

  1. How sadly accurate the above is. If those in power were honest, they would acknowledge that they are really only interested in defending the establishment and maintaining the status quo, not upsetting the apple-cart. Teaching, preaching and living the Gospel is not so easy because the Pilgrim God will destroy (is that an angry verb?) our comfort zones and lead us into the unknown. That is the problem. That is the problem. The bishops can't or won't let Himself take control because they want to yield power.